Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

"Look," said the distributor, "people know you're making cheese. Everybody knows that, and that's great. People want your cheese, but they don't know what it's called, and they don't know where they can buy it. We need you to support the retailers. We need you to come in and sell this cheese."

And so it was I arrived at Selfridge's in London on Wednesday lunchtime with my apron, my "Little Wallop" and my cheeseboard, ready for anything. I got lost in the pasta department on my way to the cheese kingdom, and found Paul Simonon buying his lunch. I didn't know whether to hide from him or not. He was the bass player in The Clash. And since I started making cheese, he's been playing bass on Damon's records: my old job.

It was a strange coincidence, almost religious. Before I was a rock star, I worked in a supermarket and I hated it, but after everything that's happened, I was now back – like a Buddhist monk returning from a thousand-mile journey – and I was looking forward to it. "Alright, Simmo!" I said, "Come and get some cheese."

He bought four, God bless him, my first customer. Then it went quiet for a bit. A lady asked me where the olive oil was. I said I didn't know, but would "modom" care to try the famous cheese on the way? She declined. It wasn't very busy or anything, but I suddenly felt quite proud of myself. We can only make 200 a week, but it is rather good, this cheese. There were so many ways it could have gone wrong, but here it is – something that's never existed before, lined up with the big-hitters of the cheese universe, the Kirkham's, the Keen's and the Colston Bassets. It's new and interesting. People tasted it, and liked it – and bought it.

No one in the food hall recognised Paul Simonon, and nobody recognised me, either. Occasionally an announcement would go out over the Tannoy saying "Blur's Alex James" was at the cheese counter, but people didn't seem interested.

I crossed town to Harvey Nichols and did a stint there before having dinner with Tim Burgess from The Charlatans. "What's your cheese called?" He said. "Is it out? Where can I get it?" I told him and we talked about the old days. "We're giving our new record away," he said, hopefully.

I got out just in time. I did enjoy it, but I found promoting records was often a cheesy business. Cheese itself is actually far from cheesy. I loved being the right side of the cheese counter, and I persuaded Claire to come with me to Paxton and Whitfield on Jermyn Street in London the next day.

The gentlemen who shop there seemed more interested in talking to Claire about cheese, or in fact anything, than to me, so I left her to it and went to investigate the maturing rooms in the cellars. I love Jermyn Street, and it came as no surprise at all that there are secret caves, full of strange cheeses, stretching far underneath it. I'm sure I had a dream about that once. It's come true.



Evenlode 'Little Wallop' cheese is out now.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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